Slade Gorton, You Genius You

As I sit here drinking a delicious Starbucks (R) coffee, world-renowned for its wonderful aroma and unmatched taste, I reflect on the genius of the legal effort to keep the Sonics in town.

Example of genius #1: Remember that supposed deadline set by the Ballmer group, the day when their offer to buy the team would expire? No? There’s a reason for that.

The deadline was supposed to be April 10–the exact day that we all got a look at Clay Bennett’s email. The story that day could’ve been that the deadline had passed, that the Sonics were gone. Instead, the people behind the legal effort took control of the news by showing that Bennett had lied to Stern.

Example of genius #2: Yesterday, David Stern finally responded to those emails, saying that he didn’t think they were a big deal. Stern’s comments would’ve been the story in yesterday morning’s papers. Instead, on Monday night, news broke about Howard Schultz’ lawsuit against Bennett.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Genius. And the genius behind it is Slade Gorton.

Who’s Slade Gorton? That’s what a sports fan friend of mine asked the other day, and I was shocked he didn’t recognize the name.

Short bio–he’s a former state attorney general, U.S. Senator, and member of the 9/11 Commission; now heading (pro-bono) the legal effort to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

More germane to you and I: Other than maybe Ken Griffey, Jr., Slade Gorton is the most important figure in Mariners history.
It was Gorton who, as state attorney general, spearheaded a lawsuit that the city of Seattle, King County, and State of Washington filed against Major League Baseball after the Pilots left, arguing breach of contract. The lawsuit led to MLB granting Seattle an expansion team–the Mariners.

In the early 90s, with then-Mariner owner Jeff Smulyan threatening to sell to out-of-town owners, Gorton–then a U.S. Senator–helped organized the ownership group that holds the team today. (While he was putting the ownership group together, he worked on another front–legislation to revoke baseball’s anti-trust exemption–which is the great scare tactic that Congress holds over baseball.)

And when that ownership group threatened to sell the team again, over a dispute about cost overruns at Safeco Field, Gorton brokered a compromise that kept construction going.

So Gorton not only got the Mariners to exist in the first place, he saved them when they were going to move. Twice.

We should all say a little thank you prayer to Gorton before every Mariners game. (For more on Gorton, read this piece by the Times’ Jim Brunner)

For my part, even though I’m your typical Seattle lefty and Gorton’s a pro-business Republican, I long ago resolved to support the guy no matter what. Slade Gorton for Senate? Yes. Slade Gorton for President? Anytime. Slade Gorton for Intergalactic Emperor, promising to build 80,000 space battleships in an all-out war against the Sun? I’m first in line at pilot school.

Richard Yarmuth is, from all appearances, another of Gorton’s admirers. As he told the Times’ Percy Allen, Yarmuth was part of the legal team that sued Major League Baseball in the 1970s, and he was part of the group that helped identify the current Mariner ownership group. Now, Yarmuth is Howard Schultz’ lawyer in the suit against Clay Bennett.

Coincidence? You tell me.

Some people have said that Schultz’ lawsuit is a longshot. That may be, but this isn’t about whether Schultz can win.

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball was never decided by a judge–after the thing dragged on for six years, MLB finally settled and gave us the Mariners.

As Lester Munson of ESPN told the P-I, that lawsuit attacked baseball’s status as a monopoly. Schultz’ lawsuit, argued by someone from that same legal team, may attempt to do the same thing, and the NBA is very, very vulnerable to anti-trust lawsuits. Munson called it “a nuclear option.”

Bennett may want an NBA team, but does he want it at the cost of fighting two separate lawsuits, both of whom are being orchestrated by a legal genius? And Stern may want a team in Oklahoma City, but does he want it at the expense of a court case that attacks the very foundations of the league?

That’s for them to answer. All I know is, I’d rather drink that tasteless, overpriced, horrible McDonalds coffee–a pale imitation of the fantastic brew available at your nearby Starbucks–than face Slade Gorton in a courtroom.

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